When it comes to art, there’s a strange microclimate in Brussels. The European capital is home to a surprising number of seasoned collectors with particular interests in those rather challenging art forms people tend to term avant-garde. One of the best illustrations of this is Herman Daled’s collection of conceptual art from the ’60s and ’70s, which this highly discreet radiologist eventually sold to MoMA, New York in 2011. Right across the city, private contemporary art projects are legion.
Enthusiasts willingly open their collections to the public, host events, and share their interests.
The Greta Meert Gallery, which launched in 1988 and from the outset exhibited american Minimal Art but also Dan Graham and John Baldessari, has certainly been responsible for a lot of artistic callings. Downtown Brussels, it has a whole dedicated building for its exhibitions. As we speak it’s showing the Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt who investigates the physical effect of materials in her canvases. Despite their severe appearance, they’re made using cheese, sugar or blood. Dekyndt has a second exhibition concurrently at contemporary art centre Bruxelles Wiels and was recently included in a group show at the excellent alternative space Le Consortium, in Dijon.
Among the new players on the local scene is Frenchman Philippe Valentin (of Chez Valentin Gallery in Paris) who in association with the Jeanroch Dard Gallery has created a space they’ve baptised Mon Cheri. The day before the private view for the Art Brussels fair, running until Sunday 24 April, and in which he’s participating, Valentin’s Brussels space presented the work of Michael Manning, a young artist from Los Angeles. In his video installations, Manning mixes with stunning verve reclaimed images that appear unconnected but are nonetheless mesmerising. The works are on sale for between $3,000 and $15,000.
Mon Cheri is based at 69 rue de la Regence with eight other galleries, among them the new recruit, Dvir, possibly the most influential gallery in Israel, which chose Brussels as its European base.
There are 141 galleries at the Art Brussels fair, which this year moved to a location much closer to the town centre – a former customs warehouse known as Tour & Taxis. In the international calendar of the contemporary art market, which is currently suffering from a surfeit of fairs, Art Brussels has successfully managed to establish itself as a good proposition in the region, one that’s well aligned with local tastes. You’ll find artists of all stripes, from the young to the newly rediscovered, offering work in a range of relatively reasonable prices.
According to Anne Vierstraete, the Art Brussels director, the average purchase is in the region of 20,000 euros.
Take the Parisian Laurent Godin who is showing, among others, Alain Sechas (born 1955) who currently has an entire room of works in the permanent collection of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris .
Sechas is known for his cartoon-inspired paintings and sculptures showing cats mimicking humans. One of his paintings of holidaying cats, a social satire on the seaside, is selling for 15,000 euros.
Not far from here, Jousse Entreprise is showing a film by the French artist Louidgi Beltrame (born in 1971) winner of the SAM Art Projects Prize. It’s his homage to the film The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut, has a 22,000-euro price tag and is limited to a run of five copies.
Beltrame film is also exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo right now.
It should be underlined that the fair opens barely a month after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. If none of the exhibitors have pulled out, the same cannot be said of visitors who were put off by flight disruptions while the city’s airport is still attempting to restore full service.
Elsewhere, arriving for the first time in Brussels is a New York fair which is benefitting from a strong bandwagon effect. Independent, on until 23 April, brings 64 exhibitors to a disused department store. It counts the participation of influential galleries on the international scene such as Chantal Crousel and David Zwirner. The latter, for instance, is showing an historic work of minimal art by the American artist Donald Judd comprised of a double neon. On sale for $800,000, it’s probably one of the most expensive pieces in the fair.
Clearing of New York and Brussels has plumped for stunning new paintings by the Belgium-born, Brooklyn-based Harold Ancart. A unique revisiting of Hokusai’s The Great Wave, his work is available for $18,000 to $40,000.
Elisabeth Dee, co-founder of Independent explains: ‘We’re using the same recipe as in New York. We want to extend globally. Brussels is the centre of Europe and we are in the centre of Brussels.’
The two fairs are openly in competition.
The recent removal of some powerful collectors from the Art Brussels committee has affected the event.
On the other hand, its move to a more beautiful and more accessible location this year has worked in its favour.
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